The Snake in the Grass

Synopsis of The Snake in the Grass

The second book in the series, Tales of Early Rome, zooms in on Brennus, six foot something, hair matted stiff in gray clay, face caked in pale blue paint, great spear in hand, and mangy wolfhound at his heels. The antagonist of this novel perches on a outcrop at the foot of the Alps like a great rook looking down on the razing of Mincio, a frontier outpost in the northern reaches of Etruria. He is chief of the Celtic tribe called Senones, on stage briefly, a warlord who haunts the action and will play a major role in the third book in the series, called Terror from the North. He and his warriors are on the way to Rome.
The cameo fades as the scene shifts to the capital of the Etruscans, where a war-council of Etruscan elders prepares to attack the Roman town of Fidenae. Not strong enough to beat the Romans alone, they must swallow their pride and ally themselves with the Senones to wage war in revenge for the Romans’ destruction of Veii. The battle will become the central climax of the story. Protagonist Gaius Sempronius, the Roman centurion, along with his officers Sextus and Lintulus will all be there.

At the same time, the plotting coterie of Roman senators, which we met in the first novel of the series, The Tribune of the People, has hired a spy and assassin, a consummate professional, whose assignment is to kill Gaius at the height of the battle. No one suspects his close friend Tiberius. We find out that the fortunes of his family, an ancient aristocratic one, are at low ebb. In short, he needs the cash.
Characters in supporting roles assume greater prominence in this second novel in the series. Vortumnio, the gaunt, disgruntled Secretary of the League of Cities, leaves his grasping wife and goes in search of Marcus and Julia, when he discovers they have returned home from their ordeal overseas and are living at her father Lintulus’s home in the Sabine Hills.
Parmenon, or Cadmus, the steward of an Athenian philosopher, after helping Julia and Marcus escape their bonds of slavery in the first novel in the series, discovers his master’s plot to send a shipload of silver to northern Italy to help fund Brennus’s invasion of Rome, a budding republic.
Julia and Marcus return home, transported to southern Italia by the same Carthaginian captain Eshmunazar, who had by chance spirited them away aboard his ship, leaving the port of Corinth, in the first novel, some six or seven months previously. They make their way up the Italian boot to Gaius’s estate and arrive on horseback, dressed in Carthaginian clothing and at first are unrecognized. When they are settled, they spend the next few nights over wine and feasting recounting their odyssey from Athens to Corinth, to Carthage and home. They captivate Gaius’s family and household with tales of storms at sea and sea-monsters, strange exotic creatures from Africa.
Meanwhile, the Senate prepares for war. Gaius will be sent into battle once more. His wife Fabia is now extremely pregnant, but has to oversee the Sempronius estate in her husband’s absence.
The farmer-soldiers of Rome tramp through a torrential rain to the plains of Fidenae withstanding a savage raid by a band of Celts. The battle is fought against forces of the Etruscans and Brennus’s Celts, who pose a special threat to Gaius and his men with over a hundred war-chariots with razor sharp sickles spinning at the axles. The Romans triumph despite the savage charge of chariots and the desperate Etruscan counteroffensive.
In the melee of battle Tiberius spies his victim and fights his way over to where Gaius, through sheer exhaustion and wounds, has fallen to his knees. Just as Tiberius is about to raise his sword for the coup de grace, he receives a spear thrust in the back, and turns to find Marcus Gabinius behind him. Marcus and his contingent were late reaching the battlefield, but he arrives with fierce Sabine horsemen just in time to save his uncle.
The novel ends with Vortumnio and Parmenon meeting by chance, both on their way to find Marcus and Julia. They witness the final moments of the battle. Vortumnio watches in horror as many of his closest friends in the Etruscan army are cut down, and Parmenon leads him away to find their future. Cadmus and Vortumnio represent a continuing sub-narrative that flows like a river through the novels in this series, the theme of enduring friendship, or in Latin, amicitia.
Gaius is carried from the battlefield severely wounded, as the corpse of Tiberius, the snake in the grass, is tossed in full armour, into the river. A few days later Gaius wakes up on his sick bed and walks out to gaze on his fields once again. He spies Sextus, his gigantic second in command, astride a galloping horse on the road to his farmhouse. Gaius limps out to meet him and finds that his comrade bears a message from the Senate back in Rome. When he opens the missive, he reads that he has been selected to run for the office of consul, the highest office in Rome. He will be the first plebeian to do so.
A brief coda takes place on a dark and lonely hill with a straggling band of Senone warriors, who have bedded down for the night. Among them is Brennus who plots to devastate one last Etruscan town the following morning on his long march north to the Alps and home. He plans to recruit a vast army to take ultimate revenge on these Roman dogs. The third novel in the series will witness the extent of his revenge on the eternal city.

 

The first twelve pages of the second novel in the series…

Tales of Early Rome

Tales of Early Rome

2. THE SNAKE IN THE GRASS

By JoAnne and David Conrad
“Si autem praevaricator legis es, fac ad occupandam virtus in omnibus aliis causis observare. If you must break the law, do it to seize power: in all other cases obey it.” ~ Julius Caesar

~ Third Consulship of M. Furius Camillus ~
Prologue
“I hope their wives and daughters put up a better fight when we fuck them,” groused the chief, peering down from a thorny ridge on an outcrop, as fog hovered on the valley floor spread out below. His verdict issued in frosty spumes from a mask of dried clay.
Two warriors strained to see the sheen of blood, litter of armour, broken limbs, and torsos, fragments of the carnage unleashed under their scrutiny at the foot of the pass.
“They were disappointing, no fight at all,” rasped the other, like a rook inspecting his dinner.
“We hit them so fast, they had no chance. There were only a couple of hundred, no chance.” The air steadily cleared, enough for them to make out the bastion of Mincio burning in the distance.
The pass stretched out into a valley floor. The attack was over in a few hours, and now the expansive silence was pierced by laughter and hoots, as screams of the last Etruscan soldiers and citizens being butchered there drifted off.
Exultant in their savagery, the invading Senone warriors chased down the women and children attempting to escape. But on the wide, flat playing-field there was no place to hide. Crops had not yet been sown, and there were no buildings standing.
Etruscans are fastidious and exacting agriculturalists. Many years before they had cleared away boulders and uprooted trees to plant this fertile ground. On this day the soil was still firm from the winter cold, making a perfect track for the blue-faced northmen to race their two-wheeled sickled war-chariots, slaughtering farmers for sport.
“Poor hunting that,” croaked brother chieftain, wrapping his heavy cloak more snugly and hefting spear and shield. The giant hound at his heels quickened, waiting for his master to move from the spur of the mountain. He was hungry.
The taller of the two men grinned, twirling between his fingers the thick, flaxen moustache that framed his pointed chin. He wore trousers, a tunic, and a woollen cloak, and an ornamental dagger and a sword, hung from an intricately worked belt. His helmet caught the sun’s light.
“We should be able to get the rest of our people through this pass as soon as the last snow is gone. That won’t be long now. I feel the sun’s bite already.”
They turned to pick their way down a nearby path. “We will light the bonfires to burn the Etruscan dead.”
Lesser warrior dipped his head in agreement, and repeated the refrain, “I thought they’d put up more of a fight.” He stared down on the scene of slaughter, now clear in the sun.
“I can smell it from here, little brother,” said the other. Bodies began to give off the stench of blood and entrails. Squads of warriors had begun to strip helmets and body armour from the dead, and to stack weapons in piles.
The bonfires leapt, and warriors, faces and hair matted in red clay, carried the dead on their backs, on carts and on chariots to feed them to the flames. Corpses started to give off the coppery, musky stench of burning flesh.
How the Senones drove their horses and chariots across the treacherous mountain defiles of the Alps no one could have guessed, but they appeared from nowhere, a ghoulish apparition. They shocked the early-rising farmers in the fields, trimming vines, and trees, even as the last winter snows had begun to melt off, as Father Usil, Helios to the Romans and Greeks, prepared to descend again.
The pair paused at a turn in the path, phantoms wrapped in grey woven cloaks, for the air in the foothills would be frosty and sharp until late in the morning.
“Look at the fields, fertile, full of food, or at least they will be in a few months, and we’ll be able to feed our people. Our entire people can move down now and take these lands, on both sides of the Padus.
“I’ll bring all the tribes together soon enough and then plunge the knife in the back of the city called Roma, but that, my dear brother is another day.”
The shorter of the two linked his arm in that of his brother and said, “But for now, Brennus, all this is ours.”
The warrior Brennus peered across the valley, scanning as far as his eyes could see, at its perfect fields that would feed his armies, his women-folk, and children.
He sharply away, “No you are mistaken there, little brother, all this is mine.” In an instant, he drew the dagger from his belt and plunged it deep into his brother’s neck, and roared at the sky as the blood spurted out and covered his face.

Chapter 1
Rain rattled on the tiled roof of the curia by the great Temple of Vultumna, and Vortumnio Hirumina was glad of it, not for any agricultural reason, but for the simple act of keeping him awake during the annual assembly. The omphalos outside the meeting chamber still reeked of animal guts sacrificed on the altar of the Goddess of Fortune for the benefit she might bring to the newly awakened fields.
But he hated these interminable summits, people assembled in earnest and dour factions, faking intense interest, grim faced and stern, and his stomach took forever to settle after the stench of burnt animal flesh abated. Why did it take so long to cut out the liver of a sheep? It would have been acceptable to single out just one victim, but the haruspices insisted on slaughtering dozens, bullocks, sheep, and down to goats and even rabbits.
Thank the gods the slaughter on this scale was performed only once a year when delegates from the principal cities met. The lords of the Etruscan lands rode down from Felsina, Fufluna, Felathri, from Arretium, Curtun, Persusia and Clevsin, and from Vetluna, Velch, Velzna, Tarchne, and Caisra. This year they brought spring showers, and the priests were hard pressed to keep the sacred flame alive for Vultumna, Great Goddess.
Half-cooked mutton was not Vortumnio’s favourite, but like other League officials, he was obliged to eat it, a by-product of the countless sacrifices. Why not feed it to dogs, or to those clay-headed Celts, or better yet, to the Romans?
It was always his experience that when important summits were done, all the delegates rode back to their cities and towns, throughout the land, and carried on in exactly the same manner as they had before they had come.
But now that the haruspices had put on their show, the real purpose of the gathering could begin with discussions of economy, worship, and not bloody least, on beefing up the armies. Perhaps, thought Vortumnio, we should actually take a leaf from the Romans and discuss the possibility of uniting to crush them.
The skeletal secretary from Tarchne warped and woofed his reflections, and they grew more twisted each second until he drifted off, and his head slipped from between his bony hands and thumped on the marble table top, causing some of the delegates to jump in their seats.
It was a fretful time, with the Senones far to the north dogged in their demands of gold and land. But they weren’t the greatest threat, as the Tuscan towns had plenty of both. It was the capture and destruction of Veii, flower of all Etruria, last year, by the Roman army under Marcus Furius Camillus that resonated throughout the realm filling everyone with dread, disbelief, and rage.
When the final speeches were given, the last rites intoned, and the chamber doors closed, Vortumnio planned to spend a little time in Velsuna, visiting friends, sampling local wines and taking his wife Vela to the garden markets and exotic boutiques found only in the capital. He gazed indolently through a window at the wooded hills that rose up around the lake and the frosty mountains in the distance.
“Lords,” boomed his acquaintance Larth Tulumnes, “The time has come for action. We will be engulfed from the north by the Senones and from the south by equally savage Romans. Who poses the greatest threat to our sovereignty? You decide for yourselves. But our great Lord Velthur Hathisna, who as you all are aware barely escaped with his life from the flames of our beloved Veii, has developed a strategy, a way to help us deal effectively with growing dangers and even turn the tides.”
An impossible mission thought Vortumnio, awakening from his slumber. He had, over the years, as Secretary to the League of Twelve Cities, developed a canny technique of dozing with his eyes open, appearing to be fully awake and alert as to what was being said around him.
I have seen both Celts and Romans close up, he thought. Etruria’s great days are drawing slowly but surely to an end.
Our arts and our buildings will be razed, our navy no more will rule the seas, and our soldiers no more inspire terror in our enemies, said the Secretary in a soaring speech that only he could hear. Only our language will survive and give to the world the enduring gift of speech.
I wonder how fares Larth’s beautiful wife, Arathia, and that snappy little Sabine vixen, what was her name? And then there was that Roman lad, endearing really. I wonder if he’s still alive. It was a shame to have left him so suddenly.
As the chattering around him grew faint, Vortumnio returned to his favourite reverie, and the pale phantasm of a woman appeared to him, bedecked in a white stola of mousseline. She called his name and held out her hand to him, and eyes closed he stare transfixed and then ran to her. She would smile, radiant, empyrean, and fade in pale, gold light.
The vision left as quickly as it had come to him. The young Roman was Marcus and his little Sabine girl was Julia. A smile feint and brief caressed his thin lips and gaunt cheeks, and the Secretary’s thoughts focussed again on the hall.
Larth took his seat, as Lord Velthur stood, face wreathed in shadows which danced from the brazier. Even though the day had reached noon, the sky was dark, clouded over with fog, and rain constantly pounding. His eyes were deep-set and his face emaciated.
“Thank you my esteemed friends and colleagues. Our challenges are indeed great and may seem insurmountable to many, yet even now there are paths open to us, and we may follow them to glory.
“I say, use Romans and Celts against each other, divide and conquer must be our new and daring weapon, setting one tribe of savages against the other, by joining the Senones to fight Romans, and to recapture the land and rebuild the once shining city of Veii will be our goal.”
Lord Velthur heard the low groans that followed his announcement. Contempt rose like incense over the clamour, and the speaker scanned the chamber through half closed eyes.
“Friends, companions, men of Etruria,” he continued, “I hear your derision, and I hear your doubt, but before you leave this chamber, hear me out. It has long been an Etruscan strength to give ear even to an enemy’s words, and I am enemy to none in this room. I will fight to the death against both savage Celt and boorish Roman.
“We ruled the lands of Rome and the rolling hills of Latium for many years. Everyone here has a grandfather to recount stories of our labour to lift the Romans and Latins above the rank of scraping peasants. It has been centuries since we taught them how to plant, how to organize their fields; we taught them how to farm, and today it is their prime strength.
“The Celts are beyond our ability to teach, to lift up from rapacious, sword wielding barbarians. We have sent embassies north, we have sent trade missions with gold and iron, hoping they would shape the wealth from our mines into ploughshares and beautiful jewellery, but no, they used the gold to feed and arm warriors and the iron to beat into their long swords. Thank the gods both Roman and Celt fear the sea.
“So here we are, and I say to you Lords of the Middle and Northern Lands, the wisdom and laws of our fore fathers, brought from the Levant to this sullen and empty land, inspire all my words to you today. We must befriend one to destroy the other. We must divide and conquer!”
Vortumnio sat up. This concept of divide and conquer he had used last year, strapped in a cart to two smelly Romans. The three of them had been taken by Senones mercenaries for sale as slaves. He laughed to himself as he recalled how he had incited the older Roman soldier, to rail against his captors, and each time the man was smacked or poked, and Vortumnio felt the gratification he derived.
Until he thought of how the brutal treatment of Gnaeus had resulted in the death of the miserable old centurion, and of how he had been dumped into the harbour at Neapolis – after someone had cut him down with my dagger.
Then, he remembered, when his humours were at their lowest ebb, having lost thousands of drachmae, along comes that scatty little Sabine. She had been separated from her owner, and he scooped her up for nothing. Who was her original owner – he had no idea. Anyway, she had made him a bundle, more than the old Roman soldier.
Vortumnio wanted to hide in this delicious daydream, to picture the young people, the couple he met what seemed a hundred years ago. It was a matter of months, half a year.
The low, grating voice of Lord Velthur woke him to the here and now. “We must ally ourselves with the Celts to crush the Romans and draw a wide line of defensive forts, starting with the site of our lost Veii. When we have completed this, we will sweep down from our mountain fastness and drive the Celtic trash over the mountains and draw a line across the hills that they will never dare to cross.”
The Lords of Etruria nodded and hummed their approval. Divide and conquer was beginning to make sense.
Lord Velthur sat down, a grin of triumph on his thin face. Larth stood up, his auburn hair tied back with a scarlet ribbon.
“Friends, and delegates, cherished priests and haruspices of the great Goddess, you have all heard the words of our colleagues, and the time has come for a decision. We are to choose between two evils.”
The aristocrat’s speech was cut short when a youth ran up the ramp to the flat Fanum, the holy place of the Great Goddess Vultumna and darted up to the doors of the curia. The delegates, including Larth, stared as he was checked roughly before he could enter the chamber where they sat.
His hair was matted, sweat-drenched, and bloodied, his clothes tattered and black with ash. He had run smack into the pair of soldiers guarding the entrance to the shrine where the delegates were about to conclude their meeting.
“The two evils, we know,” continued Larth, “are the Celts in the north and the Romans to the south. The northerners are beyond our helping, but they will blow away like leaves in the wind. Rome, we have nurtured like our first child, only to have it turn upon us. Some of you will know the great chorus by the Greek Aeschylus about the raising of the lion cub, how it will suck our mother’s milk and later gobble our food. Its bones and muscles will grow in size and strength, yet it will never lose its wild savagery, so it is with Rome. We gave it arts, the crafts of war and peace, temples, and straight, broad streets; we even gave them good farming methods now the bedrock on which their power rests.
“But the Greek lion is become the Roman wolf that has grown and turned on us, and the winds will not blow it away. Rome is our permanent neighbour and our foe.”
Vortumnio was scribbling all this as fast as he could. He knew the climax of Larth’s speech was due, and he had his slave running to and fro with a constant supply of styli and tablets. Wax would be transferred after the conference to parchments and stored for posterity in the vaults under the shrine.
By the gods, he thought, make your blasted point, and get on with it. My fingers are aching. He could have had his best amanuensis take it all down, but, he wished to appear busy in front of the delegates, and he wanted the payments they would confer on him, so he scribbled and scribbled.
“It is the decision of the Council of the Twelve Cities to allow the Senones to pass through our territory and on to Rome, to lay it waste. But before that, they will muster with us to reclaim the sister city of our beloved Veii, Fidenae. The leaders of that fair city have asked us to garrison the town and they have applied for admission in to our League.”
There was a deep and profound silence in the chamber at these words. The High Lord of the Cities had a booming voice which vibrated in every corner.
The two guards held the bedraggled messenger at the bronze doors of the chamber. They gestured to Vortumnio, and he rose from his seat, glad to flex his numb backside. He approached the soldiers, and one of them leaned to whisper in his ear.
Larth Tulumnes watched as closely as he could and saw Vortumnio’s jaw drop and his face grow pallid, almost green.
The soldiers hauled the young man, not much more than a boy, down the corridor. Vortumnio scurried to Larth, through the hushed gathering, and spoke in a low voice. Larth’s mouth tightened and his lips drew back as he gestured for Vortumnio take his seat. The Secretary was obedient and picked up his stylus with a trembling hand.
Larth rose to address the people. “”Friends, it appears there has been a problem in the north, in our dear little Mincio, but,” he stared down at Vortumnio, then faced the delegates, and slammed his tightly clenched fist on the marble table top, “Our plan will go through!”
A collective sigh seemed to wind through the delegates, and they banged the table to demonstrate their support.
Vortumnio carefully replaced his stylus in a little lacquered box, fastened it, closed the last tablet, spoke instructions to his slave, and quickly left the chamber, his loose tebenna fluttering as he disappeared down the hall.
Chapter 2
Thanussa stood at the door of the master’s bedroom, shadows dancing on the walls, and glanced from the atrium back to her master stretched out on the coach. She could smell rain in the air, as she re-entered the room. She sat back down on the bed and caressed tendrils of grey hair rolling over Camillus’s ears and brushed them back with her forefinger.
“That won’t get rid of them my dear,” said the general, still in his bed clothes, eyeing the gaunt and porcelain face of his mistress and house manager. “She gets back this afternoon, on a packet from Neapolis. “
“Ah well, Camillus, we’ve shared a full month, and our time will linger in my heart. You must be getting dressed and prepare for another of your incessant meetings. You know, I would love to meet this Gaius Sempronius you talk about so much, even though his year as Tribune has been uneventful so far. I don’t recall his calling the Senate to meet once.”
“Well I think, it might end less peacefully for him,” replied Camillus putting his feet firmly on the floor. “No, he has not called the Senate together, not yet at least.”
“How is it that one man can cause such concern that he has most of the old farts in an uproar?”
“It’s his attitude to things,” said Camillus rising slowly.
“What things?”
“The land-and-power-and-distribution-of-wealth things, my dear.”
“But you’ve often praised his soldierly ways.”
Marcus Camillus steadied himself and turned to allow Thanussa to wrap his toga.
“I have, and there’s no doubt that Gaius Sempronius is a remarkable soldier, and far-thinking too. It was he who suggested to me that we pay the soldiers, a sort of levee from the coffers of Rome’s treasury. It was he who first employed those Greek war contraptions, scorpions, at Veii with such success.”
“Maybe his farsightedness in war has carried over to the management of his estate and of the people he employs, and his slaves.”
“True, my dear, true. Do the Etruscan capital cities pay their soldiers?”
“Not in the sense you have described. They are rewarded with swag taken from defeated people; the wealth is paid out by the leaders of the city for whom they fight. But when that leader is greedy and corrupt, the pay-outs are few, if any.”
Marcus Furius Camillus pursed his lips moment and replied, “From what we hear, Gaius’s agricultural practices, though not as sophisticated as in the North, are growing better every season.”
Thanusa pulled out a wrinkle in his toga, “So why, in the name of Fufluns, our Tuscan god of farming, don’t you encourage him, rather than attempt to assassinate him? Rome’s wealth and power, and its self-defence rest solely on her farms. Rome has no navy to speak of; the land is her only strength, her foot soldiers are farm boys, and most of her officers are farm owners.”
Camillus pulled his arm away, “Stop this harangue! What you say is true, all of it. But you don’t understand the reason for this fight. Though it may be as you say, good for Rome to have forward looking farmers such as Gaius Sempronius, his advances impinge upon our power.”
“But why?” asked Thanussa tucking in the umbo, the last fold of the toga.
“My dear woman, he is a pleb. He is not one of those old buzzards, as you put it. Once upon a time his family held patrician rank, but the clan Sempronia forked into two directions, and he was born into the lower orders. He is a bloody pleb!”
“Can’t you work with a bloody pleb?”
“Could your people, your Tusci?”
“We would not have them over for parties or dinners, this is true, but we certainly do encourage them to farm and feed us. Look at the beautiful Po Valley farms. Have you been up there, my dear man? A paradise of peaceful, flat fields, rich in wheat, barley, rice, and orchards, fruit of all sorts. No, by all means, we would never hold a man back from farming, when he has the genius for making plants grow.”
“Well, we are different. If we don’t have absolute control, we get stubborn and rather pigheaded. “
“But it’s not practical. I thought Romans were supposed to be a practical, square-headed lot.”
“Not when it comes to their rights. They are a most greedy, mulish, and wilful people. Look how they cling to their clan tales, descending from gods and goddess. We all come from Troy, don’t you know, a tribe of Asia.”
Thanussa replied, “But our kings claim no such descent. We were a rare combination of farmers who could sail, and we did sail. According to the old tales, we sailed from Asia, landed on many different foreign soils, until we settled in Italia, north of the Tiber.”
Camillus stretched his arms legs, and raised a hand to silence his mistress.
“Tut, Thanussa, we have much to discuss, and never enough time. The old days grow older, like you and I, but the present calls us back, with our diminished sight and our aches and pains. Speaking of pains, I’m off to the house of Lucius Julius, that old chilblain. I had promised him a while back to tell the Patrician Fathers of my plan to rid ourselves of Gaius Sempronius, after his term of office as Tribune of the People is over.”
Thanussa rose with her master’s wine goblet and placed it on a table. The angled rays of sun lengthened, sketched her lean features, and haloed her hennaed hair, thick and straight. She had travelled through middle age unmolested by time, and although she approached forty years, she was exquisite as the gold that adorned her, and when Camillus pressed her to him, felt her breasts against his chest, the thought of his meeting tonight and the return of his wife made him wince.
***
The sun was behind the Palatine Hill as a lone figure of a tall, well-formed man, evidently a man of importance from the way he held his head and strolled vigorously down the flagstone passage that led to the large and opulent villa of Lucius Julius.
Camillus always chose to walk and had a litter only for his wife. He spat once as he opened the gate and strode to the great doors of the main entrance. He rapped on the forcefully and immediately a nervous young slave opened the door. Camillus disappeared inside.
***
The meeting had not lasted long, maybe an hour, but seemed never-ending to the general. Discussions blew around the large room like winds gathering into a tornado, emotions rising and falling, but they always returned to the single question, how to get rid of Gaius Sempronius. It was Camillus who was able to still the old men’s’ fury with a plan. It went over well with the gathered conspirators, the patricians of Rome, the men who controlled the destiny of the city and whose ravenous desires seemed to Camillus to be growing too quickly for the health of Rome, now more than fifty thousand people.
Was Rome not the largest city in all Italia? Maybe Caere or Tarquinius were larger, perhaps Neapolis in the south. The bloody Greeks breed like rabbits. He heard reports, too, that across the sea, Carthago was a large town, and farther, Athens, Corinth. But Rome certainly was on the way to take her place among the great cities of the world.
“That is why gentlemen,” he said, about to conclude his speech, “That is why we might tread more lightly on the likes of the farmers. We will need their food and their manpower for our wars. We might see the likes even of that Sempronius as a tool.”
Camillus expected approbatory laughter, but received instead quiet, steady hisses and boos that filled the large and richly decorated hall. “Steady, gentlemen,” he continued, beginning to perspire.
“Steady on there. Yes, we will execute our plan, but we can also exploit his skills, and the skills of the growing numbers like him. They are the backbone of our growing army. They are worthy of our consideration…”
***
Marcus Furius Camillus arrived home, the way he had left, alone and on foot. The walk home, however, had been full of foreboding, heightened by his seething anger. He suspected someone had been following him, and at several junctures turned suddenly to spy whoever might be trailing him.
Thanussa had given him her thin richly decorated dagger to slip in the fold of his toga, and he was glad of it.
But the hour’s walk brought him safely home and as he slammed the door behind found his wife striding down the hall to greet him. Her blue stola shivered as she wafted to the arms of her husband.
“Dear Marcus, wherever have to you been.”
“Just for a little visit to an old friend’s house near the Forum, Cornelia.”
“But you seem out of sorts, what’s happened.”
Camillus peer down the long hall and spied Thanussa emerge from the shadows. He then detached himself from his wife’s arms, and, staring past her at the ghostly vision, said, “Start packing, my dears, the Senate wants me dead, we’re moving for a while to Ardea.”

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